* Kerry Group to build innovation centre in County Kildare
* Move cements Ireland's position in food research
(Adds comments from ministers, background)
DUBLIN, Oct 9 (Reuters) - Irish food company Kerry Group
is to hire 900 workers for a new food technology centre to be built in Ireland, one of the biggest jobs announcements by a single company in the country since its economic crisis began four years ago.
The 100-million-euro ($130 million) centre, to be based in Naas, west of Dublin, will employ 800 people when it begins operations in 2015 before expanding to 900, Kerry chief executive Stan McCarthy told a briefing in Dublin on Tuesday.
The export-focused food sector is one of the brightest spots in Ireland's struggling economy.
"It is absolutely essential to our economy, it accounts for 10 percent of Ireland's exports and 8 percent of GDP," Prime Minister Enda Kenny said, noting the importance of the research and development side of the sector.
Ireland's growing expertise in dairy, food science and nutrition, which has led to a high number of specialised graduates in the sector, helped swing the deal in Ireland's favour.
"What I think we've successfully managed to do is to build a ... cluster of research activity around food and food innovation, which I suspect was a big factor in their decision," Ireland's agriculture minister Simon Coveney told Reuters.
Kerry, which makes Wall's sausages and Cheesestrings snacks and is one of the largest Irish company on the stock exchange, said the new centre will service its clients across the European, Middle East and Africa region with construction to start in early 2013.
Local exporters, of which agri-food companies are key contributors, are dwarfed by non-Irish multinationals in terms of output - accounting for less than 15 percent of exports - but they employ the same number as global giants including tech and pharma A-listers like Google and Pfizer .
This means their role in job creation is vital in a country where a bloated social welfare bill accounts for a third of all government spending and unemployment remains stubbornly high at almost 15 percent.
($1 = 0.7711 euros)
(Reporting by Lorraine Turner and Conor Humphries, Editing by Mark Potter)
Keywords: IRELAND KERRY/